Updated with interview with McCoy and report on rally: Art McCoy, who was placed on paid leave from his post as superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant School District in November, has resigned from his job, effective this Saturday.
The move was announced Wednesday afternoon in a joint news release from McCoy and the district Wednesday.
According to a statement issued jointly by the Ferguson-Florissant Board of Education and McCoy, “It is mutually agreed and understood that full resolution of these matters is in the best interests of the Ferguson-Florissant School District. To those who have framed the issues as racially motivated, the parties are satisfied that each acted in good faith and with the best interests of the Ferguson-Florissant School District in mind.”
A separation agreement released by the school district said that McCoy will be paid for 44 unused vacation days, but his salary will stop Saturday. Both the school district and McCoy agreed to take no legal action against each other, and McCoy agreed not to seek a job in Ferguson-Florissant in the future. The district will not contest any claims McCoy makes for unemployment benefits.
Late Wednesday, McCoy released this statement via email:
"There is a time and a season for all things. Now is the time for resolution. Today marks the conclusion of my time as the superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant School District. I resigned (pursuant) to a separation agreement to settle all claims with the current board. I have enjoyed serving, loving, and leading the staff, community, families, and most importantly, the students of FFSD. This part of my journey has been rewarding and I thank all of those who have supported me over the past six years. It is because of you that we were able to achieve growth and progress.
"However, it is now time for me to move forward in a different capacity to continue on with my mission to educate Missouri’s youth. The district and I have agreed to part ways so that we can both devote 100 percent of our time to those who most deserve it, the children.
"I have no regrets about any of my actions on behalf of the children and families of FFSD. While I may no longer be the superintendent of this district, I will continue to be engaged in my life’s work of ensuring that all of Missouri’s youth receive an education second to none. As such, I will always be here for the families and children of our district. The students deserve our support and advocacy for the best education possible.
"I intend to be a part of the change needed in Missouri to prepare our children, ALL of them, wherever they live, for a bright and prosperous future. I ask for the continued support of the region as we move forward and I look forward to strengthening Missouri’s educational landscape with you by my side. God bless."
The move caught some of McCoy's supporters by surprise.
Arthelda Busch is with the Citizens’ Task Force on Excellence in Education, which has been vocal in its support for McCoy. She received the news of his resignation shortly after people began to gather for a rally for McCoy that had been scheduled to begin shortly before Wednesday night's hearing.
“We were hoping for a different kind of resolution," Busch said. "So, we’re just waiting to hear more, to understand better, how this will play out for everyone.”
Alfred Long Jr., also with the citizens’ task force, said whoever will replace McCoy has big shoes to fill.
“I was relieved that there was some closure to the situation, I was relieved for Dr. McCoy that he wouldn’t be held hostage to the proceedings, that he could go on with his life," Long said. "I was saddened that we lost a very, very, very good superintendent that cared about the children.”
'No win for adults and a no win for kids'
In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, McCoy said late Wednesday that he felt it was time to end the prolonged standoff with the school district — a standoff he said was hurting students.
“This was a no win for adults and a no win for kids,” he said. “The focus clearly wasn’t on children.
“The kids have to be the focus. You go to a hearing, and you take seven days for transcripts to come back, then you do fact finding, then you take 30 more days and maybe you can get a conclusion. If both sides feel it’s in the best interest of the district to move forward, that’s the beginning of healing, in my opinion.”
He said there was no telling what would have happened if the hearing had gone forward, but he did not want to talk in terms of winners and losers.
“This entire situation has been a loss,” McCoy said. “For me, the question was how do you help the district, the students, the community, the parents and the board not be in a continual perpetuation of a loss. There is no win when parties are at war with one another. I had to say, how can I be part of a solution to a problem that I didn’t get myself into.”
He said talks involving lawyers for both sides began over the weekend, and once they started the situation resolved itself fairly quickly.
“It was not really that complicated,” McCoy said, “other than the fact of going through the process of reviewing the details and the data and the information.”
He added that having some time between the vote to put him on leave and now — what he called “a few months away from the noise and the spotlight” — helped move the process along as well.
McCoy said he had spent part of his time away from Ferguson-Florissant working with education committees of the Missouri House and Senate on bills that can help struggling school districts. He said he wanted to be a professional advocate for children and social justice in whatever position he ends up taking.
“I want to do what is best for the region,” he said.
Asked about his candidacy for the position of president at Harris-Stowe State University, he said he didn’t want to discuss it while the search continues.
“I definitely don’t want to blur the lines of this and that,” McCoy said, “so I don’t have any comment regarding Harris-Stowe.”
Who would he like to see win election to the Ferguson-Florissant school board at the April 8 election, when three seats are at stake and a slate of candidates that was seeking his reinstatement has been campaigning?
McCoy laughed and responded:
“I want the will of the people to be done. I want their voice, their action and their love to be represented in the whole process.
“If the focus is on children, that is who I would like to see win, whoever has that undying focus on the children they serve.
Focus and philosophy
The Ferguson-Florissant board voted 6-1 on Nov. 6 to place McCoy on paid administrative leave. Board members declined to be specific about why they took that action, issuing a statement that said the move was due to “differences in focus and philosophy.”
In December, the board issued a list of charges that could have led to his being fired for cause according to the terms of his contract. No details of the charges were released. A hearing before the board was set to begin Wednesday night and continue Thursday night; it was going to be closed to the public.
The vote on the charges was also 6-1, with board member Paul Schroeder being the dissenting vote in each case.
In response to questions about the action against McCoy, Morris has said it was not related to his active embrace of student transfers from Riverview Gardens and Normandy, and it was not related to his stance on school choice. No wrongdoing against a student was involved, district officials have said.
When the charges against McCoy were approved, Morris said in a letter posted on the Ferguson-Florissant website that they resulted from “an independent, third-party investigation.” The probe was conducted by attorney Douglas Copeland.
“This was a very difficult decision,” Morris’ letter said, “but one that we believe is in the best interests of our students, parents and community. It was made after a thorough, independent investigation and much careful deliberation among all members of the Board of Education. We recognize and are grateful for Dr. McCoy’s contributions to our students since becoming superintendent. Unfortunately, we find it necessary to take this action at this time.”
The move to put McCoy on leave came several months after his contract had been extended to last through June 30, 2016, at an annual salary of $217,644.
The contract spells out the circumstances under which McCoy could be removed for cause, in which case the district would not be obligated to pay him for the remainder of his contract.
Those circumstances include neglect of duties and responsibilities; poor performance, incompetence, or inefficiency in the line of duty; failure to comply with policies and/or rules and regulations of the board; failure to comply with directives of the board; failure to abide by state law; immoral conduct; material breach of the contract; or “any other good cause as defined by Missouri law.”
Since being placed on leave, McCoy has been largely silent, though he did hold a news conference and give an interview to the St. Louis Beacon in late November.
In that interview, he said he had no definite idea why he was suspended but wanted to minimize the disruption to the education to students in Ferguson-Florissant.
“I view this as being an integrity issue for the entire Ferguson-Florissant school system and also other systems in the region,” he said. “I could not sit back and allow for this great school district as well as the region to go further in the wrong direction and compromise its integrity. I know that we’re better than this."